*Disclaimer: This was written at 1:30 am, on iPhone notes, cocooned in a duvet, trying to sleep. So this is a meta post steeped in irony – writing about being a night owl, whilst in the midst of a heavy bout of owling.
I remember the first time I heard someone ‘successful’ (read: doing what I want to be doing) talking about how they made being a night owl work for them. It was in an interview with the incredibly talented doodler Hattie Stewart. She described how she would doodle well into the night, leaving herself a lie-in until around 10:30 am on weekdays, but scheduling emails to be sent at 9 am so it looked like she was always active (never send emails at 4 am, it looks unprofessional and you’re more likely to make mistakes).
“That’s me,” I thought (not the scheduling bit, but the rest). My experience of being a night owl is often complaining all day that I’m sleepy, struggling to muster the creativity that’s needed in my day-to-day job, feeling so excited to get into my bed. To sleep. I get home, and begin to work on my blog, or write something, or research, still tired. Bath, read, relax. It’s at about this time that the thoughts start creeping in. Little bursts of ideas, over-thinking of everything, epiphanies on good nights. They roll, develop, escalate. After a while, they came to me earlier in the night, to the point where I had to keep a notepad next to the bath in case inspiration struck me while I soaked unassuming in the suds.
For Hattie, it’s fine, she gets that lie in and continues about her flexible freelance day. But for night owls trying to live a semblance of a normal life, it’s difficult.
There are facts about us, our struggles, our strengths and the difference between us and early birds, but I want to share how I live as a night owl. As always these are not tips to live by if they don’t work for you. I hope one day I will be able to live creatively as a full-time owl, but for now, as my brain whirs until the wee hours, this is just how I deal with being a night owl in an early birds world, which may help you.
Trick your mind into thinking it’s earlier
This is the classic mind vs. brain. It’s a mean feat to achieve, sneaky but effective. It requires stealth. One wrong move or a sudden flash of thought could trigger the switch. If an early night is feasible or has to be on the cards then it’s all about mind-numbing literature, blinkers on, and getting chilled from the moment I get home. I may miss out on extracurricular catch-up but at least my sleep won’t suffer.
Succumb to it
Like I was doing when I wrote this post. Sometimes if I just let my mind vomit out all its ridiculous spew in nonsequiturs and nonsensical notes then it’s all out there. Sometimes it just keeps going, but if its somewhere outside of myself then I don’t have to be worried about it clogging up my head. Go on your phone (yes, I keep mine by my bed for this reason). They might be talking sense when they say it keeps you awake with the light, but it’s better than the alternative of creepily whispering into your microphone and creating disturbing, inaudible voice snippets.
Know when to stop
Encouraging brain spewage is all very well, but if you start to lag, if an eyelid lingers nearer the pillow, call it a day and give sleep another try. Similarly, if you’re just scrolling the socials, it’s better to switch off.
Let yourself have the mornings
Don’t beat yourself about it – especially if it’s been a particularly rough night. And don’t listen to the early birds who can write novels before work. Your brains are wired differently, and that’s OK. Being a night owl is not always convenient but at least you’re lucky enough to be struck by something.
Try to maintain a routine at the weekend
After a long week of birthing brain children, it is really tempting to sack everything off and have a hearty sleep in. By Sunday, you’ll be screwed. Not a great start to the week. Spiral, continue. I let my night owl have an extra hour or two but still try to get up at a reasonable hour.
Your body doesn’t need the sleep, it’s your brain that does. Despite common thought, it actually only needs about 6 hours to recharge and survive. Try to remember this when you’re staring at the ceiling while your night owl pecks your forehead. It’ll ease the insecurities and hopefully help the drop-off.